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Can Mental Stress Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition that requires effort every single day to manage. One of the biggest contributors to rheumatoid arthritis is stress, so keeping stress levels under control is key for anyone who struggles with this autoimmune condition.
Older adults with rheumatoid arthritis may experiences new stressors that cause flare-ups. Symptom management is especially important for seniors. If you or a loved one has rheumatoid arthritis, you should understand the connection between stress and autoimmune diseases as well as common stress reduction techniques that can help keep symptoms at bay.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects your joints. It triggers your immune system to attack your body’s healthy cells, leading to tissue damage and chronic joint pain. In severe cases, rheumatoid arthritis can also damage the heart, lungs, and other organs.
The following are some of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Swollen, tender, or painful joints
  • Joint stiffness
  • Identical symptoms on both sides of the body
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness


Rheumatoid Arthritis and Older Adults

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually diagnosed in middle-aged adults, but it creates some unique challenges for seniors. Older adults can be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis later in life, and those who have had the disease for many years can continue to struggle with symptoms as they age.
Rheumatoid arthritis is progressive. As you get older, the wear and tear on your joints may have become significant. It also can be incredibly difficult to deal with if you’re facing the normal signs of aging. You may find it harder to stay active as you age, which can make symptoms worse. Keeping up with medication management and treatments can be challenging for older adults as well.
Because rheumatoid arthritis can be so painful and difficult for seniors, you should do everything in your power to keep the symptoms under control. This means visiting your doctor regularly, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and managing your stress.

Stress and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research suggests a strong connection between stress and rheumatoid arthritis. Any form of stress can take a toll on your mind and body, and stressful events are especially harmful for people with autoimmune diseases. When you experience a stressful event, your body enters “fight or flight” mode. This can affect your hormone levels and weaken your immune system.
Studies show that stress can cause rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups. The stress takes a mental toll, too. The emotional effects of intense stress may make the chronic pain and other symptoms feel more difficult to manage. You may struggle to keep up with treatments or maintain a healthy lifestyle when you’re facing chronic stress.

Can Stress Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Stress can worsen an existing case of rheumatoid arthritis, but it may also trigger the onset of the illness. Many people report going through a stressful or traumatic event shortly before their rheumatoid arthritis symptoms developed. There’s also a correlation between childhood trauma and rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
Older adults are susceptible to a number of different stressors, so stress may play a role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in seniors. A serious fall, the loss of a spouse, and a change in living situation are just a few of the many stressful life changes older adults go through. Any one of these stressors could trigger an autoimmune issue.

Reducing Stress to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis

All seniors should make efforts to reduce their stress and maintain a healthy, peaceful lifestyle. However, this is especially vital for older adults with rheumatoid arthritis. Stress can take a severe physical toll on your body, so incorporating stress management techniques throughout your day is necessary for both your physical and your mental health.

The Following Are Some of the Best Ways for Older Adults to Reduce Stress


Get Plenty of Sleep

Many older adults struggle to get a good night of sleep. Your sleep cycle may change as you age, and learning to manage your sleeping patterns can be challenging. Stress is so much easier to manage when you’re well-rested, though. Try to keep the same sleep schedule every night, and maintain a relaxing routine before you go to bed so that falling asleep is easier.

Exercise Regularly

Joint pain and mobility issues can make exercise a challenge for older adults. However, incorporating movement into your day has powerful benefits for your mental and physical health. Low-intensity exercises like walking, swimming, and yoga can all help to reduce your stress. Consult your doctor for advice if you’re concerned about starting an exercise regimen.

Join a Support Group

Your friends and family can be a great source of support and comfort. They probably don’t understand what it’s like to have rheumatoid arthritis, though. Chronic illnesses are intensely isolating. Connecting with others who can relate to your experiences is a great way to feel less alone. You can also pick up some stress management tips from others who share your symptoms.

Attend Counseling for Seniors

Chronic stress can feel impossible to overcome on your own. Whether you’re going through a difficult life event or you’re just a naturally high-stress person, professional support may be necessary to ease your anxiety and learn to keep calm.
Therapy is an opportunity to explore the root causes of your stress and to understand why you may have such a strong response to stressful events. As you gain a better understanding of your thoughts and emotions, you can start to utilize coping skills so that your stress doesn’t take such an intense toll on your mind and body.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults with rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic health issues. We understand the link between mental health issues and rheumatoid arthritis, and we’re happy to help as you learn to take control over your stress. To learn more about our services, please contact us today.

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